Roger Federer. Twenty Grand Slam triumphs, over one thousand tour-level victories and a record three hundred and ten weeks at the summit of the game. Despite all of these accolades, people seem to be writing the Swiss superstar off. His recent record in Slams – and on tour – has been relatively mediocre for a man who is widely regarded as the greatest to ever grace a tennis court.
Cast your minds back to the 2001 Wimbledon Championships where a 19-year-old rising star from Basel took on the mighty Pete Sampras, the four-time defending champion and winner of seven of the last eight at SW19. Many were aware of Federer’s raw talent, but few gave him a chance against the formidable American. The crowd were treated to a grass court masterclass and after five sets of impeccable serving from both players, the younger man prevailed in what is now seen as the changing of the guard in men’s tennis.
Fast forward eighteen years and the vast majority of tennis fans think we are experiencing another changing of the guard. At this year’s Australian Open, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas produced an epic performance to hand Federer his first defeat in Melbourne for three years. Similar to the Swiss legend, Tsitsipas also rocks a bandana to accompany his long hair, as well as a beautiful one-handed backhand. It is because of these comparisons, that many feel the Greek is the one who will rule the ATP Tour for years to come. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Federer has been written off numerous times in his illustrious career – and we never learn. Back in 2008, a relatively ‘poor’ season took place which sparked debate over whether his time at the top may well and truly be done. That poor season resulted in him reaching three Grand Slam finals (winning one of them) and finishing the season as the number two player in the world. The following season Federer completed the career Grand Slam by winning the French Open, reclaimed his beloved Wimbledon crown, and climbed back to the summit of the ATP rankings.
In 2011 we had a similar occurrence with Federer going Slam-less in a season for the first time in nine years. What did the Swiss do the following season? He only got back to no.1 briefly and won a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title. You would think that the doubters had learned their lesson by now.
Arguably his most impressive comeback happened in 2017 when the then ranked no.17 Federer clinched the Australian Open title in his first tournament back in six months, five years after his previous Grand Slam triumph – and he beat his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, in the final. Later that year, the maestro recorded a record breaking eighth Wimbledon crown to surely cement his place as the greatest tennis player ever. Surely we have learnt our lesson now?
The 37-year-old’s recent loss to the promising Tsitsipas has reignited the fire for talks of Federer being done at the top of the game. He has not reached any of the last four Grand Slam semifinals for the first time since the four Slams prior to his first title back in 2003. The formidable forehand that has been crucial to his success has been missing for a while now, and the Next Gen are starting to make a real threat to the top of the game. Throw in Andy Murray’s potential retirement and you might think the Swiss is debating joining his great rival on the sidelines. However, is Roger Federer really playing as bad as we think?
After the Australian Open, the Swiss will be ranked fourth in the ATP rankings… at 37-years-old! He was ranked at the top less than a year ago and won a Grand Slam last year. In the past fifty-two weeks he has lost just eleven matches and boasts an 80% win-loss record in the same period. Federer may not be at his absolute peak, but that is natural since it occurred over a decade ago.
What is not natural is for someone of his age to be a consistent threat at the major tournaments. Do not be surprised if the Swiss wins another Grand Slam to his already incredible tally, after all, he has come back from worst. The great man is far from done, Roger Federer won’t let the guard change easily.